Sawant: Tax Amazon Movement Activists Unveil Council Resolution, Speak Out Against Threats of a Seattle Amazon Tax Ban (Preemption) in House Bill

Remarks (as delivered)

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), with union members, faith leaders, democratic party, socialists, and community members delivered remarks this morning at Seattle’s City Hall opposing any effort to insert preemption into HB 2907 and SB 6669: 

Thank you for joining us for this important
press conference. As the movement that has been fighting to tax big business
and raise progressive revenues to begin addressing the extremely serious social
problems facing our city and region – we welcome any attempt to raise
progressive revenues at the City level, the County level, or the State level.
As a matter of fact, as someone who spends 18 hour days year after year,
working for the movement, I would be nothing less than delighted if the State
legislature were to announce today that they are going to pass every kind of
big business taxation on the state level so that we can address all our problem
– from the cutting of funding of public education, to the serious affordable
housing crisis that we see from Seattle to Spokane; so that our cities didn’t
have to fight separately.

“But that hasn’t happened, and so, we have the responsibility to
fight for the maximum possible progressive revenues that we can achieve at the
city level. In that spirit I would welcome any State measure that is able to
increase progressive revenues to whatever amount. We fight for every dollar
that we can get and every affordable home that we can build. Regarding House
bill 2907, while it is extremely inadequate, we welcome the possibility of a
$121 million rate at the county level.

But I want to step
back from those numbers – for us to be much more conscious and understand the
political calculus that is at play here. In 2018 big business, including the
richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, went all out against our city to prevent
having to pay even ONE dollar. They went to war to avoid even one single dollar
in taxation. Emboldened by the repeal which shamefully many Councilmembers and
the Mayor engaged in, they went all out against progressive candidates,
including myself last year, and they had hoped that they had in a permanent way
defeated our movement. That did not happen, in fact, Big business suffered an
overwhelming and historic defeat at the hands of our grassroots movement.

So my question is –
why is it that big business, which went all out to avoid having to pay even one
dollar in taxes – why would they be ready to pay anything close to $120
million? Leaving aside the fact it is extremely inadequate for our movement.

I want us to
recognize the only reason, the sole reason, that big business would enter into
an agreement of any kind of taxation on themselves, would be if they could get
the real prize that they want to have. That is the so-called ‘preemption’. In
other words, a state-wide ban on cities like Seattle raising our own big
business taxes to the level commensurate with our city’s problems.

This is happening in
the context of Washington state being the most regressive tax system in the
county. That is to say that out of 50 states in the United States, our state comes
50th, dead last, in how much the tax burden lands on ordinary people and small
businesses while allowing the corporate elite to enjoy a tax haven.

It is stunning in this context that Mayor
Durkan, and politicians at the state legislature are working in the back rooms
with big business, plotting to take away the very few remaining progressive
taxation tools that we have.

“I thank the press for reporting on this, on HB 2907. And as I
said, they call it preemption, which sounds neutral enough, but what it really
is, is an anti-democratic state ban on progressive taxation, an anti-democratic
ban on taxing big business. Right at the moment that the Tax Amazon movement is
organizing to finally make them pay their fair share.

This I think is the
bottom line political calculus. Because they lost overwhelmingly in last year’s
election and because they know there is tremendous momentum behind a movement
to bring together either an ordinance or a ballot measure on taxing big business
this year. This is why we are seeing the conversation about a bill that would
potentially raise a small amount and get the real prize for big business which
is a ban on progressive taxation.

If this ban goes
through it would be a historic attack on working people. Demanding they
continue to foot the bill for everything, while the multi-millionaires and
billionaires, with their stock options and all their executive privileges,
continue to have their playground.

It is a disgraceful
act by politicians, some of whom identify as progressives, to even talk about a
preemption in the state with the most regressive taxation and make it yet more

Let’s be clear, if a
state ban is allowed to pass it will be a ban on not only any ordinance or
ballot measure this year in our city, it will be a state ban in perpetuity on
our city’s ability to pass any progressive taxation. In other words, if we
allow this preemption to go through we are signing up for having a ban forever
and we refuse to sign up for this. We need big business to pay, not working
people, not ordinary homeowners or small businesses.

That is why
alongside our grassroots movement I am introducing a
against the proposed state ban on taxing big business at
Monday’s city council session. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I am
deeply disappointed that even elected officials who are progressive have not
actually stood out clearly against preemption. I still urge them to, I invite
them to speak very clearly against preemption and join me in supporting this
resolution. I hope they change their mind and I hope they recognize this would
be an attack on working people in perpetuity and it would be unconscionable.

I would also note
for the press that Mayor Jenny Durkan who I met with this week, has been
unwilling so far to speak out against the proposed state ban. I asked her
personally many times ‘will you speak out against the so-called preemption or
state ban?’ and I did not hear that she would. I welcome the media to question
her about it, and welcome her to speak out against the ban and to join me in
sponsoring the resolution that is coming up on Monday, but right now I am very
afraid that she is prepared to cooperate with this anti-democratic attack
against this City. It would be unconscionable for the executive of this City to
do this…”